Deadly salmonella outbreak which has killed one and left at least 50 ill is linked to pre-sliced watermelons from Brazil

One person has died and at least 50 more have fallen ill from salmonella poisoning which may be linked to watermelons imported from Brazil.

The outbreak, which began in December, is believed to involve packs of ready-to-eat sliced watermelon.

Health chiefs say the public can protect themselves by washing all types of fruit and vegetables.

Source of outbreak Watermelon samples tested positive for Salmonella Newport

Source of outbreak Watermelon samples tested positive for Salmonella Newport

However many are unlikely to wash
packs of ready-to-eat fruit, which have become enormously popular and
are often sold as a healthy lunchtime snack.

Seventy per cent of the victims are female and include a six-month-old baby and pensioners.

The one British fatality was suffering from a number of other underlying health problems.

Details of the outbreak – involving
the Salmonella Newport form of the bug – were revealed by the Health
Protection Agency, which is investigating the source alongside the Food
Standards Agency.

CONFIRMED CASES

• England – 26
• Wales – 3
• Northern Ireland – 1
• Scotland – 5
• Republic of Ireland – 5
• Germany – 15

Thirty five of the cases were in the UK, with 26 in England, five in Scotland, three in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.

The same strain of the bug has been identified in a further five cases in the Republic of Ireland and 15 in Germany.

The presence of salmonella was first
identified by HPA scientists carrying out routine sampling of a range of
foods for the presence of listeria.

The watermelon sampled was imported
from Brazil and between ten and 15 of the victims reported eating the
fruit in the two to three days before they fell ill.

However the HPA stressed it cannot be certain the victims ate watermelon from Brazil and it is too soon to identify the source.

Brazil is the largest supplier of
imported watermelons sold in the UK accounting for around 12 per cent of
the total, which equates to around 6,100 tonnes.

Enlarge

Contaminated: The watermelons may have been infected by bugs found in cow or horse manure

Contaminated: The watermelons may have been infected by bugs found in cow or horse manure

Virtually all the major supermarkets
import them from Brazil at this time of year. Last night Tesco,
Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose and the Co-op insisted their
watermelons were not affected.

Dr Bob Adak, head of gastrointestinal
diseases at the HPA, said: ‘Early indications suggest that a number of
people became unwell after eating watermelon.

‘It’s important to remember the risk
of becoming unwell after eating watermelon is very low. These cases only
represent a very small proportion of total consumption.

‘It is always advisable to wash fruits
and vegetables – including watermelon – before consumption to reduce
the risk of illness.’

Dr Paul Wigley, an expert in food
borne diseases based at the University of Liverpool, said: ‘As
Salmonella Newport is often associated with cattle or horses,
contamination from animal manure used as fertilizer is a potential
source.

‘As this appears to be a problem in
pre-sliced melon, contamination on the surface could be transferred to
the flesh when cut, or contaminated water may have been used in washing
the melons.

‘Fruit and vegetables are not the main
source of infection which is usually meat or unpasteurised dairy
products, but they can be contaminated with salmonella in production or
processing.’

Alison Gleadle, director of food
safety at the FSA, said: ‘We are working closely with the European
Commission, other countries, local authorities and the food industry, to
investigate further.’